"mistakes are bad"

teacher1   Tue Jan 06, 2009 4:18 pm GMT
As an English instructor and linguist, I would like to refute just one of many assertions that the webmaster makes on this page, particularly the notion that mistakes are bad and should be avoided.
Mistakes are a natural part of the language learning process. The idea that making a mistake reinforces the mistake and thus should be avoided is soundly stuck in the behaviorist camp, one that has been left behind by scientists since the 1970's.
When a learner makes a mistake, it is in fact, a good thing, if they are able to first be corrected by a qualified instructor, and second learn how to monitor their mistakes and correct them on their own. In fact, making mistakes is one of the BEST ways to learn things! It forces learners (again, in the presence of a good teacher) to make a mark in their mind for that structure. Then every time a learner wants to make use of that structure, they will have to pause and think. This is how self-monitoring develops.
A basic understanding of language learning must be rooted in linguistics and psychology. There are some resources on this website that are useful (the pronunciation exercises) but there is also a lot of misinformation.
Johnny   Tue Jan 06, 2009 5:22 pm GMT
<<I would like to refute just one of many assertions that the webmaster makes on this page, particularly the notion that mistakes are bad and should be avoided...
...it is in fact, a good thing, if they are able to first be corrected by a qualified instructor... >>

But I don't think any instructors or teachers are mentioned on this forum. I think the point is to be able to learn by yourself, and that's certainly possible nowadays, thanks to the Internet. I learned English that way, and I've never wanted any teachers, since the ones I used to have when I was in school were total idiots (May God forgive them for they were not native speakers, because I will not). Most non-native teachers tend to be very low quality teachers.
The point of this website, about "avoiding mistakes", is simply that reading out loud without knowing how to pronounce words decently would be bad, writing an essay using expressions you are not familiar with would be bad too (some expressions you use might not even exist in English), chatting too much with non-native speakers whose English skills are very poor would be bad, and so on.
Making some mistakes is inevitable anyway, but avoiding "bad practice" and "bad habits" can and should be done.
800mm f/5.6   Tue Jan 06, 2009 7:56 pm GMT
<<When a learner makes a mistake, it is in fact, a good thing,>>

When grading tests or parers, etc., is it good to give out the best grades to the ones with the most mistakes?
Achab   Tue Jan 06, 2009 8:36 pm GMT
Let there be light.

Having a teacher at hand would be important if you were supposed to produce sentences in the target language all the time in order to learn it. But you are not supposed to do so. As Stephen Krashen has demonstrated, that is not an effective strategy to learn a foreign language.

The key method to accomplish the task is to expose yourself to massive doses of input: books, close-captioned movies, magazines, comics, webpages, OTR dramas, etc.

In a context like that, i.e. an input-based context, a teacher is just not relevant.

As for an output-based context, sure, a teacher is certainly relevant, if not even necessary.

But once again, an output-based method, even when teacher-supervised, is just exceedingly inferior in terms of effectiveness.

Also, it may be true that a mistake does not reinforce itself if it is promptly and competently corrected by an instructor, but you have to concede that you can hardly spend more than a few hours per week with a teacher, which is to say that you are going to be corrected by him only for a limited period of time. And that is quite a disaster, is it not? You obviously need to spend way more than a few hours per week playing with the target language if you are serious about learning it.

I am sorry teacher2, but you are just too much of a follower of the old-fashioned TESL literature that completely ignores the breakthrough brought about by the irrefutable findings of Ivan Illich, Stephen Krashen and others.

Perhaps you fear you may lose you job if the truth comes to light.

In closing, I would like to point out that teachers of foreign languages should not actually disappear down the Memory Hole, provided that they renounce the current mainstreaming, output-based strategies that most of them employ to "help" their students.

Yes, it is in fact possible for teachers to become relevant in an input-based context of teaching and learning. How so? Well, just take a look at how J. Marvin Brown's "crosstalk" and James Asher's TPR have reshaped the second language instructor's role from that of an Orwellian psycho-policeman shitting on his students' errors into that of a massive provider of useful input.

Here is a webpage on J. Marvin Brown and his method of teaching:


Here is a website entirely dedicated to TPR:


The best method of learning a foreign language may well be having a teacher before you, but this is true only if the said teacher is one whose work is founded on sound input-based strategies rather than sloppy output-based activities, and this is not the case for most of the tme. On top of that, your teacher should spend several hours per day with you, not just a few hours per week. And he should do so for many months, if not for a few years. Now, is it realistic?

Go for a self-teaching, input-based algorithm. It is state-of-the-art, the most effective method devised so far.

With happy New Year wishes,

Achab   Tue Jan 06, 2009 8:39 pm GMT
A little typo warning:

In my posting above, "teacher2" should have been "teacher1".


Yes, they are bad, but he   Tue Jan 06, 2009 9:28 pm GMT
I make mistakes when I write in English sometimes. Just correct me. I can learn. If it's a typo, though...

I study a lot of languages and l try to keep the ones I already know up-to-date.

The issue with mistakes is this: Some people do not want to be corrected. They accept a level in a foreign language that is messy, but meets their needs. It is very difficult to correct adults in certain cultures without causing a loss of face. Mistakes can become imbedded. We need sites like this to challenge learners to go beyond being "okay" in a language.
Another Guest   Wed Jan 07, 2009 6:20 am GMT
I see both sides. While making mistakes is part of learning, the problem is if you think X is the right word, and you're told that Y is the right word, then you now know that Y is the right word, and that X is the wrong word, and those two facts will be tied together in your mind. Every time you think of Y, you will also think of X. And sometimes, you'll remember that one of them is right and one is wrong, but not which one is which.
Tom   Wed Jan 07, 2009 4:01 pm GMT
Great post, Achab.

Teacher1, is this what you're saying?

1. If a student speaks carelessly, makes a mistake, is corrected by teacher, and learns to be careful with this particular structure -- GOOD.

2. If a student is careful from the start (because he/she tries hard to avoid mistakes) -- BAD.
Aldrin   Thu Jan 15, 2009 5:44 am GMT
By what criterion is it a great post?
Caspian   Thu Jan 15, 2009 5:08 pm GMT
You learn more by trial and error - making mistakes, then realising them / being corrected than you do sitting there refusing to say a word in case you make a mistake.
Mistakeismymiddlename   Thu Jan 15, 2009 5:31 pm GMT
^Same with girls. In high school.
Caspian   Thu Jan 15, 2009 5:43 pm GMT
Johnny   Thu Jan 15, 2009 7:07 pm GMT
<<You learn more by trial and error - making mistakes, then realising them / being corrected than you do sitting there refusing to say a word in case you make a mistake. >>

that not truthful really, i now am answer and express my thinking, and you understand myself on this replying, i am no doubt about it, but if you don't correct my false words in this post then i keep practice false english and means i am learn this crap english.

No one is going to correct you. If someone does, you'll usually get less than 1% of what you say during the day corrected. And every time you practice wrong English, it like you are training the wrong way. Not only does training the wrong way lead to no remarkable results, but it also leads to injuries.

That doesn't mean you must not make any mistakes. It just means you should try to avoid them, so you won't reinforce bad habits. Example: reading an article out loud where you don't know how to pronounce half of the words and so you just guess, is a very bad habit.
sobani   Thu Jan 22, 2009 3:38 pm GMT
Caspian / Mistakeismymiddlename:

If a girl slaps you in the face or calls you an asshole, then you'll learn to stop saying a certain kind of things (hopefully). However, if your pick up line is: "I want to fuck you", and girls translate that as: "I like you", do you believe that you will ever become truly romantic?

Because the second case is how it works if you make a mistake while speaking or writing in a language (even your native one). People will read through your mistakes or simply ignore you depending on how much they want to read what you have to say. And if people get headaches figuring out your (almost) incomprehensible combination of vowels and consonants, don't you think they will be most likely to avoid you?
Kate Blanc   Thu Jan 22, 2009 5:05 pm GMT
''I'm not good at spelling''
(Gwen Stefani)